GUEST POST: An organisation which doesn’t perpetuate, but which innovates

Euan Murdoch is travelling Around the World in 60 Days meeting some inspiring people and asking them to share their music stories. Here Jennifer Lang, cellist and Creative Leadership Manager of the vibrant young orchestra Southbank Sinfonia shares hers…

Jennifer Lang, Southbank Sinfonia

Jennifer Lang, Southbank Sinfonia

What do you do again?

In November 2012, I started a new position at Southbank Sinfonia. I’ll be very honest and say that I took the job (at least in part) because of the enigmatic job title: Creative Leadership Manager. Nearly five months later, I think I’m beginning to work out what that means.

My first encounter with SbS (as it is fondly known by players, staff and supporters) came when I visited London’s Southbank Centre some years ago. I paused by a bumf table laden with the brochures and leaflets of all the best orchestras in the city, their glossy covers resplendent with images of the tailed coats and distinguished faces of the business. Here an artistic mop of grey curls, there a sweep of evening gown perfectly mirroring a cello’s curve. Everything about this imagery breathed sophistication, prowess and pedigree. These musicians were creatures of a mythic world far removed from my scuffed shoes and backpack. One brochure did however, catch my eye. Like the others, the cover displayed the tools of the trade: flutes, bassoons, strings, even a silver trumpet. Here, however, they were nestled among jeans, t-shirts, big, bold and quirky jewellery, Adidas trainers and the easy smiles of thirty odd young people. They looked like a really nice bunch and oddly, as though they were really happy to be there and would be happy to meet an ordinary person like me. Top right was an unassuming logo: Southbank Sinfonia, Music Director: Simon Over.

The freshness and accessibility of that image has stayed with me and has helped to inform my approach over the past few months. Ours is an organisation which does not perpetuate, but which innovates and which subscribes to the Ralph Nader notion that the “function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” With this in mind, this is one of the first professional orchestras working in the UK’s busy musical scene to put professional development of the whole musician on a par with technical and musical excellence.

 Basses Pablo Orenes (Spain) and Laura Murphy (Wales) rehearsing for a side-by-side performance at Thomas’s Day School.

Basses Pablo Orenes (Spain) and Laura Murphy (Wales) rehearsing for a side-by-side performance at Thomas’s Day School.

SbS players enter the programme as instrumentalists who can speak fluently with their instruments and they leave well along the path to becoming eloquent musical communicators . In a practical sense this means that we work to place an equal emphasis on three key elements: musical excellence in ensemble, individual musical excellence and excellence beyond the performance platform. The first two apply in conservatoires everywhere (with varying degrees of emphasis on the first) while the third is what sets us apart and bridges the gap between training and a vision for the classical music world of tomorrow. A good player can impress you with a performance at their instrument while SbS believes that a great player is a musician beyond their instrument, in their teaching, talking and thinking.

The nurture of each player’s creative leadership takes place in every concert, every performance, every community or education project. At all times, players are questioning convention and learning to understand and apply their personal musical integrity and intelligence. I specialise in taking them as far out of their comfort zones as possible along this journey and in helping them to find the value in every one of these diverse situations. In turn this contributes to a positive cycle of audience development. These players lead the industry in opening new doors to new listeners as they personify the enduring youth and relevance of this great art-form.

Percussionist James Bower working side-by-side with a pupil from Thomas’s Day School

Percussionist James Bower working side-by-side with a pupil from Thomas’s Day School

Music critic Richard Morrison writing in The Times in a review of our tenth anniversary gala in October last year neatly summed it up: “In such lively bands as Southbank Sinfonia, bright, open-minded young players are redefining everything about classical music concerts, from where they take place, to what you hear and how you behave. If you haven’t been to an orchestral concert for a while – or ever- give this brilliant new breed a try. You may be watching a revolution.”

– Jennifer Lang, Creative Leadership Manager, Southbank Sinfonia, 25.03.2013

Viola player Tegen McGrahan (UK) on a recent trip

Viola player Tegen McGrahan (UK) on a recent trip


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